There can be no circular economy without reverse logistics. Reverse logistics is the arc that makes the circle; it is the turn in return.
Heading home from the third annual Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Council Conference, I’m thrilled at the growth of the conference, the growth in diversity of the attendees and the overall increased inclusion of sustainability in the core curriculum of the event. And I had deeper, more substantive conversations, which I am already continuing.
Prepping for the talk I was going to give at the conference (Who put the “S” in RL&SC? Using sustainability to optimize reverse logistics & making reverse logistics part of your sustainability strategy), I scoured the websites of companies I knew would be in attendance, grabbing sustainability claims in order to map them to what reverse logistics offers. Indeed, reverse logistics and sustainability share common goals. Here are some of the areas where overt collaboration could prove especially fruitful:
- Reverse logistics looks to optimize transportation; reducing transportation is a clear win for sustainability because it typically translates into reduced emissions. Wal-Mart’s Pam Rapp commented that because of the size of their fleet, even making a one mile per gallon improvement translated to a huge improvement.
- Partnering to design better products from an environmental standpoint translates to easier handling at end of life. Designing with reuse in mind will go a long way toward closing the loop in electronics manufacturing. Better product design can mean fewer returns and improved product stewardship. Designing products without toxic ingredients (like lead and mercury, for example) makes for much easier and cleaner disposition as well as improved worker safety.
My virtual collaborator, Mark Buckley, VP Environmental Affairs at Staples, shared slides (which you’ll soon be able to see), showing Staples’ process for grinding up returned printer cartridge parts to turn them into new Staples products. (When the Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Council posts our presentations, we’ll come back and link to them here.)
- Both strong return policies and strong environmental commitments make for happier customers. Setting out with this intention in mind is added incentive for both sustainability and reverse logistics, which are typically isolated from each other
Indeed it is rare—just one company raised a hand—to make the point that leadership from reverse logistics and leadership from sustainability need to join forces. But they must. Sometimes that leadership is difficult to identify. Sustainability leadership might be coming from corporate communications; it may be found in real estate or facilities management. If you can’t figure out who’s leading the charge, let me help. I’m looking to grow my network of sustainability leaders and welcome the challenge. And I’m looking forward to seeing many of you again at RL&SC 2017, or sooner. If you plan to be at the Ecovadis conference in April or Sustainatopia in May, please drop me a line at email@example.com so we can plan to meet.
Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business, promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT for Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics at the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste, and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carolbaroudi.